Florida Democrats Fight for Worker Safety in Extreme Heat

Florida’s scorching sun isn’t just a concern for beachgoers; it’s a serious issue for the folks who work outdoors every day. Imagine being out in the blazing heat with no water, shade, or chance to take a break. That’s the tough reality for many workers in the Sunshine State.

Heat Stress Epidemic

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Teresa Choc, who works with the Farmworker Association of Florida, says most of these workers suffer from heat stress.

They’re the ones putting food on our tables, but they’re not getting the protection they need from the blazing sun.

Legislative Threat

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While some progress has been made in Florida to protect workers, a new threat looms. Republicans are trying to pass a law that would stop cities and counties from making rules to protect workers from the heat. 

Local Control Under Fire

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That means local governments wouldn’t be able to ensure workers have water, shade, rest breaks, or even training on staying safe in the heat. 

State vs. Local Authority

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Instead, the state government would be in charge of deciding these rules. Activists are worried that Republicans in the government might actually end up making things even tougher for these workers.

Trumbull’s Argument for Statewide Uniformity

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State Senator Republican Jay Trumbull says the intention is to avoid having different rules in different parts of the state, “a patchwork of regulation.”

But some people think it’s not fair for politicians in Tallahassee to tell local communities what they can and can’t do to keep workers safe.

Community Outcry

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Esteban Wood, an activist organizer for WeCount!, a nonprofit that helps immigrant workers, said in a statement, “It is absolutely asinine that we have legislators in Tallahassee dictating what local communities should be deciding in their own backyards.” 

Legislative Overreach

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Esteban is on the side of these workers and stated, “We need to be incredibly responsive to protecting the health and safety of the workers who grow our food, who build our cities, who keep our economies running.”

Long-Term Consequences

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If this law passes, it won’t just get rid of the rules that cities and counties have already made to protect workers. It will also stop the state from making any new rules to protect workers from the heat until 2028.

That’s a long time to wait for help.

Federal Standards 

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Politicians in Florida think that these farms and businesses should just follow the rules set by the federal government. 

Activists’ Dissent

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But activists are not happy with this – they say those rules aren’t enough to keep workers safe. 

OSHA’s Limitations

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They believe that the government agency in charge of enforcing those rules (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, aka OSHA) doesn’t have enough people or resources to ensure every farm, field, and construction site in the state is following them.

Worker Resistance

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Meanwhile, workers and their advocates are fighting back. They’ve been telling lawmakers in Tallahassee to vote against this new law.

They’ve also been visiting lawmakers’ offices and leaving letters to remind them that workers’ lives are on the line.

Lawmaking Process

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Despite their efforts, the law is moving forward. It’s already passed one committee vote, and it’s set to be discussed by the full state government soon.

Attempts to Enhance Worker Protections

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On Thursday, the 29th, several changes to the bill were proposed but didn’t pass or were dropped by lawmakers. 

Proposed Changes

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One of these changes would have enabled local governments to make employers put up OSHA information about how to prevent, recognize, and deal with heat-related illnesses.

Local Initiatives

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In Miami-Dade County, where the heat can be especially brutal, local leaders are trying to do something to protect workers.

They’re debating a new law that would make sure workers have water, shade, and rest breaks on those super hot days. But if the state law passes, these local rules might not matter anymore. 

Heatwave Hazards

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Last year was the hottest on record in Miami, and the county says, on average, 34 people die every year because of the heat.

Mixed Results

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The state has had its ups and downs with these sorts of laws. A 2020 law to protect student-athletes from heat illnesses got support from everyone, but a plan for statewide protections for outdoor workers got pushed back by business groups.

Challenges Ahead

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Despite the challenges in passing laws in Republican-dominated courts, Democrats are pushing hard for full heat safety protections. 

Political Roadblocks

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Florida workers and advocates are trying their hardest to get things moving, but politics is famously a waiting game.

Stay tuned for more developments, as the outcome of this story is sure to affect labor laws across the country.

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